Wayne has been on top for a while, but it was a tenuous distinction until now. With so much hype leading up to it, Tha Carter III seems more like a debut (the cover art’s similarity to Nas and BIG’s debuts attest to Wayne’s awareness of this), than the shining high point of a mid-career rapper. It is a debut, of sorts.
This is the album where the self-crowned “best rapper alive” puts his money where his mouth is and proves his ability to pull together something memorable and unique. This is the artistic statement that effectively arranges all the disparate angles of the Lil Wayne personae, from the super-appealing pop-mind of “Lollipop”, to the high concept oddball exuberance of “Phone Home”, to the virtuoso rasp of “A Milli”. There’s something for all Wayne fans to love (and therefore something for each of them to hate as well).
But why hate? Wayne has finally overcome his shining past; he’s made a mature contribution to rap and in doing so he has become one of the most exciting voices in the game. His intense free association style is certainly unique among his peers and lends him a sense of urgency and immediacy that demands attention. Likewise, all of the collaborators here seem to rise to the occasion as well, particularly Kanye West and David Banner, who bring to the table their most progressive tracks to date. One can only hope an artist of Lil Wayne’s caliber and lyrical mastery can maintain this level of quality into the future.